tv Oral Histories CSPAN September 11, 2016 2:50pm-4:01pm EDT
history news. >> c-span remember september 11, 2001, through the stories of americans at the white house, the u.s. capitol, the pentagon, and above d.c. stated his position in the evacuated white house to see to the needs of the president and his staff, recalls the events of 1600 pennsylvania avenue after terrorists crashed planes into the world trade center towers in new york and the pentagon. steve: gary walters, a 37 year veteran of serving presidents. what was your job? gary walters: i was initially a uniform officer for the secret
service, and then i was an usher to 1986. later, i was appointed as the chief usher by president reagan. steve: what were your responsibilities as a chief usher? gary walters: they were threefold. first was to protect the family. second was to maintain the office of the presidency. third was to maintain the house of the president for the american people. we would have a million and a half people that would come through the house. those were the three main activities. the main responsibility is to take care of the first family and see to their needs in the house. steve: what were your biggest challenges? gary walters: trying to make sure we took care of the every day, mundane things for the president and the first lady. you can think of it as a home.
many people do not, but it is where the president and first lady live. it is one of our jobs to ease some of the burdens of the family. we went to make sure the house was taking care of and kept clean. that is one of the main responsibilities and major challenges for the chief usher. to take care of those things and do them on intrusively. steve: did you think you would spend 37 years at the white house? gary walters: no i did not. i was first going to college when i started working there, but then the position opened up in the usher's office. then, i was chosen to take over the chief usher position. i've never regretted a day i spent there.
steve: take us back to the events of the morning of september 11, 2001. tell us about your morning. gary walters: on that day, my primary mission was to take care of the activities that were going to occur that evening. there was a technique. -- picnic. president bush and the first lady were going to post the entire senate. the congressional leaders and some of the supreme court justices were all going to be on the white house grounds that evening at about 7:00. it was a traditional congressional picnic. we had caterers, a group that had come up from texas. we had chuck wagons, fitness tables, a stage on the south ground. we were preparing for around 1500 to 1800 people to serve them a meal in the evening. that was my major thought coming in that morning. as soon as i arrived at work at around 6:15, i met with some of the staff and laid out the day
-- how we were going to get ready for the evening and the other activities. as it turns out, the former president george bush and barbara bush had spent the previous night at the white house. we were going to see them off in the morning. i had been requested by some of the staff to say goodbye to them that morning. so, we were organizing a little going away get together for the bushs. then, ms. bush was going up to testify on the hill. we also had the president's brother neil there overnight. we were taking care of his activities during the day, because he was going out for business. we were generally just getting things squared away for the day. the president was not there. we were taking care of his he was down in florida.
it was a relatively active morning. when it came time for the former president to leave, he came down to say hello to the people in the west wing before he left. he came down, left his bag and the recession room, and then went over to the west wing to say hello. i think it was around 7:30 a.m., because they were going to leave at 8:00 if my memory serves me correctly.
around 8:45 a.m., the former first lady came down and met with some of the staff that she had been very fond of what she was there at the white house. we had a hello and reading with her in the former president came over and then departed with the secret service on his way to the around 8:45 a.m., the former airport. they were returning to houston. steve: do you remember his demeanor? gary walters: the former president was so comfortable at the white house. he was comfortable talking about everything and anything. one of the things i asked him about was home, how things were handing out there. he liked the idea of being in his own home. the secret service was not too far away at any point but he enjoyed the family life, being able to travel. that summer he had just gone with some of his grandchildren and done a cruise. he was talking about that. it was just a general conversation about their life in houston.
steve: with regard to the picnic, it was a crisp, clear late summer day. gary walters: temperatures were down, humidity was down. it was an absolutely marvelous day. that was one of the worries i did not have to worry about. anytime between june and the end of september, there are thunderstorm possibilities in washington but this day was crystal clear. steve: at that time in the morning, 7:30 a.m. or 8:00, you meet with your staff and begin planning the final elements for the dinner in the evening. what was happening around that time for you and your staff? gary walters: we were talking about the delivery of certain things we had rented for the evening. what time the additional butlers were going to come in and help serve. when with the caterers come. over the previous few days we had done preliminary preparations. they being caterers, they had their own proprietary ways they
wanted to do things. we won a to make sure they have the proper people. they brought a number of volunteers to help serve. we wanted to make sure that everything was correct there. we were getting ready for the general placement of things on the tables, decorations, centerpieces on the picnic tables. we talked about the entertainment that evening. it was a decision-making process we had to go through for the day that we did every day with the staff. it was nothing out of the ordinary. it was something we were planning and making sure we have the proper people in the proper place. steve: and this was happening both in the white house and on the south lawn.
gary walters: absolutely. much of it was being done inside the kitchen. we were waiting for later in the morning, around 1138 -- 11:30 a.m. or so, to get everything ready. we had plenty of time. steve: president bush 41 and barbara bush departed the white house around 8:30 a.m. in the morning. what happened next? gary walters: we continued on with the activities. it was a little before 9:00 that mrs. bush came down, i met her at the elevator. she was preparing to go down to capitol hill. as we were walking out, i remember distinctly talking about christmas decorations. my thought was that i had a couple of questions i had to ask her and there were some decisions she needed to make. on the way out to the south part ago -- south portico, i asked her if she had her boxing gloves on. if she was ready to box with the
senate committee. and she said no, that this would be a good chance for her to lay out what she thought about early childhood education. as we walked through the diplomatic reception room, we went through the south portico and i think she was due at capitol hill at 9:00 and we walked through. a car was waiting for her. as a secret service agent was assisting her in getting into the car, he said -- mrs. bush, there has been a terrible accident new york. a plane has flown into one of the world trade centers. and mrs. bush asked that she be kept advised of what was going on. my thought right immediately was what a terrible accident. here it was a perfectly clear day. it was all the way up and down
the east coast, it was a perfect day. i wondered what had gone wrong with the air traffic control system. wasn't a thought of anything else at that point. and as the secret service agent closed the door and started to get into the car, he said, gary, you might want to go inside and look on the television. they're covering it pretty extensively. there's a lot of questions being asked. so i stood at the south portico and waited for the motorcade to go out of the south grounds, which takes a few minutes because i've seen the motorcade get to the fence and turn around and come back because something was forgotten or a staff member was late. so i usually stay there until the car leaves the ground. after the card did leave the grounds, i then turned and went back to the diplomatic reception room. across from that is the secret service command post. and as i started to go into that the room, it was full of people watching television, obviously. so i decided to go up to my office on the first floor and on the way, i ran into one of the chefs and butlers and we
discussed a couple of things going on, preparations of the south grounds and a i talked to one of my maintenance men who was doing some activities in the house. it took me about eight or ten minutes to get back to the usher's office. as i walked towards the usher's office, i noticed that there were a few more people than normally would be in the ushers office and they were all looking at the television. and as i walked into the room, i saw on my television, a plane flying into obviously what was one of the world trade centers and i said to one of my assistants, how did they get this on television already. he turned to me with these eyes as wide as i've ever seen from a man who's usually quite composed, and he said, that's the second plane. it was like somebody hit me in the stomach.
he said it's the second plane and it has hit the second world trade center building. and i was breathless for a moment or two. because immediately, there was no question in my mind, the united states was under attack. this was not an accident. this was an attack. and what was going forward from there. i watched for a couple of minutes, stunned, by the commentary and watching what was going on, somehow got a replay of evening the first play pretty quickly flying into the first world trade center building and we stood there talking amongst ourselves and trying to look and see what kind of plane it was possibly.
trying to identify the plane, somebody else thought it was an american airlines. it was that kind of banter, nervous banter going on. i cleared my head and realized there was not going to be a picnic on the south lawn. and the president was probably going to come back to the white house. i picked up the phone, called social secretary, cathy fenton and said, obviously, there's not going to be a picnic. you know, it's either going to be suspended or totally canceled. i said, i'm going to take action to clear things now. why don't you start doing whatever you do, including getting ahold of the ranch people that were supposed to come to the house. tell them to stay put. we don't need extra people here
now. she said, i think i agree with you, but joe hagen, who was the deputy chief of staff, he's in the new york. he was doing a mission there to look at the president's visit later in the month. for the u.n.. and said i need to get ahold of joe and make sure that we have this nailed down. obviously, it's not going to happen. well, i knew i needed to get the picnic tables away because i had a feeling it was going to take the president an hour and a half to get back from florida. we had 160 some picnic tables on the ground as well as other things. they were covering with helicopters.
i started making some calls to the national park service grounds crew and i got my people outside to move the picnic tables. we were just going to pile them on the sides because we didn't have much time. and if you look at those films, you'll be able to see when the president does arrive on the grounds, you see picnic tables. you'll see picnic tables lying on the whole south ground. it took a little while for me to get the staff in the proper position, the fact that the chefs needed to be notifyied to stop their preparation, the same with the butlers. we were trying to get ahold of the people that were going to be making deliveries for the things that we had rented, so tell them to stop if they weren't near, don't come. and then i went outside to supervise moving the picnic tables to make sure they were in the area of where they would be the least obtrusive and make sure we could get the fire trucks. as i exited to go back out to the south grounds, a police officer came running from to my left, which was from the east
like the first lady's garden from the east side. yelling that everybody was to get out. there was another plane coming in. at about that same time, he said, i believe there's been a plane crash at the pentagon. almost simultaneous to when he said that, i heard a loud muffled thud and as he said that, i looked over the tree canopy to my right in the direction of the pentagon and i could see the big plume of black smoke with flames in the middle of it. you can't see the pentagon from the white house, but you're just -- it's just below the tree
line. and now the fear that was in everybody's mind was obviously that this is not just new york. this is washington, also. and the realization really hit everybody. another call came that there was another plane in the air. at that point, the secret service officers started yelling, get out, get out, everybody get out of the white house grounds. from the southeast gate, which was off to my left, walter shibe, the executive chef and one of my assistant ushers, daniel shanks, had been at the gate clearing the rental equipment. i didn't know it had arrived. they were at the gate getting ready to clear this equipment in and walter came running up from
the gate just, he's rather tall and long legged, usually wears the clog shoes, was quite a comical scene if you thought of it in those thoughts. at the top speed he could run in those clog shoes followed there after by daniel shanks and one of the other butlers down there assisting and they were on their way to get out of the white house and they were pushing people towards the north, which immediately didn't make any sense to me. the most exposed side of the white house is the south side. and the way to find the white house the best is from the south. not from the north. and i was screaming at my people, who were with me and who were on the south grounds, not to go north, to go south, to run and go to the south and west and the southeast gates. i said, if anything's going to happen, if there's a plane that does crash, any jet fuel and debris is going to continue north. it's not going to go south. so i was trying get people to
leave via the south and at that point, it was a case of near panic by a lot of people. fear was in my mind. obviously, because there were many calls that there were additional planes in the air. i also knew that i had a mission at that point and that was to clear the south grounds. there was no doubt that the president was coming back to the white house at some point. i had gotten an indication initially that he might be coming back at 12:30. this was before the plane crashed into the pentagon, but once the plane crashed into the pentagon, the word was out they didn't know when the president was going to come back to the white house. i was able to maintain a staff of about four people with me. and we actually ran to the knoll on the southeast side of the white house and one police officer that i was familiar with, his name is russ appleyard, kind of stayed with
us on that knoll and kept us advised of the traffic coming across the police radio. at one point, i found myself standing and my feet were rather wide apart and one of my maintenance men said to me, what are you standing like that for? it was very tense. i said, if i stood any closer, my knees would probably be banging so loud they'd sound like a base drum. about that time, a second incident occurred there on the south grounds, which put fear in
everybody's hearts. that was a report that came across the police air following two loud bangs, that a bomb, car bomb, had been set off at the state department. within a few seconds after that, one of the maintenance men who was there, mike lawn, who was a grounds superintendent, looked up high in the air over the pentagon. and saw a jet plane. and we instantly knew what had occurred. that was obviously a sound barrier. being broken by the jet as it was overhead. that jet continued to circle for a little while and i don't know why i remember this so distintly, but it was circling in a counterclockwise direction and i assume it got word from whoever the air traffic controllers were and it took off heading west. later, i understood that it was going towards the plane that was
heading for pennsylvania. steve: so that was a military plane. gary walters: also, right before that military plane showed up and i never saw this reported, but i know what i remember. after the plane crashed into the pentagon and within ten minutes, a military aircraft looked to me like the c-130 because i had seen quite a few of them, circled the pentagon and then flew off to the south. and i never heard that reported and it maybe a figment of my imagination imagination, but i don't think so. i think that plane was there from some where and it wasn't too long after the plane crashed into the pentagon, but any way, we continued to stand on the knoll. i didn't want anybody to continue doing any specific
activity because we had these continuous reports over the police airway of additional planes in the air and i didn't want to take the chance cht once again, the kind of banter that goes on amongst people when you're in that situation, if we saw a plane coming in, were we going to go down and go into the comfort station which was there, a trailer that we used for guests or go down and dive into the fountain because there was going to be so much heat if there was a plane crash. it was those kinds of things that went through people's minds. the nervous energy i think
probably took over. then a third thing occurred that really put fear into us. we heard a low jet engine, plane that had just taken off, come from our left, which was down pennsylvania avenue across the capitol. we'll stood there a gassed -- aghast as we watched this large, it was a 747 or something close to it and it flew right over the capitol and came right straight towards the white house and then made a soft turn. i noticed that luckily for my own fear, the plane was in a nose up position and it dawned on me that it was probably a command and control aircraft from andrews air force base that had used the corridor of the central portion of washington, which is obviously under military control at that time because the planes that were
circling around, to gain altitude and then it took off and went up to the northwest and eventually curled around, but it turned in its final turn veered across what looked to me like a north side of the treasury department and went off. never heard that reported anywhere either, but i know that occurred. steve: and this is all in about an hour and a half to two hour time period. gary walters: yes, it was. steve: you talk about fear. what else was going through gary walters' mind? gary walters: my overriding concern was clearing the grounds. i had known the president long enough to know that he was coming back to the white house. the white house was a symbol not only to the nation, but to the world, of the power of the presidency and i just knew in my heart that at some point that day, the president was coming back and my responsibility was to get those picnic tables out of the way because the normal landing position for the president if he can't land at the white house is down at the pentagon, helicopter pad or up at the vice president's
residence and i know those weren't viable options and i just knew that was my responsibility and the four men initially that were with me supplemented by daniel shanks after the chef ran back to the house to get his crew out of the kitchen. we just had a mission that we had to accomplish. to allow the president to return to the white house. so that was our main thought. steve: at what point during that
morning did you begin to breathe a little bit easier? gary walters: not that morning. because there were these series of things that occurred, the plane into the pentagon, the report of the car bombing at the state department, this plane coming at us from the capitol, the continuing air traffic reports that there were additional planes still in the air. we continued to work probably until about 1:00. initially, i wouldn't let mike lawn, the ground superintendent, who had a tractor with a lift on the back of it, because that's the way we usually moved the picnic tables. we usually moved them two at a time. i didn't want him to use that mechanical means. we were moving them by hand. if something was going to happen, i didn't want the sound of the motor or engine to block the fact that i wanted people to get out of harm's way, so initially, we were moving them by hand and after about an hour and a half of that, because they weigh a couple of hundred pounds apiece, realized that might want to take mike lawn's suggestion and things had started to calm down, it was around 11:30 or
12:00. we had gotten word that the president had been taken first to louisiana and then on to omaha, nebraska. at least that was word we got. so he wasn't in imminent going to return imminently to the white house, so we had some time to deal with. so, we continued to move the picnic tables at some point, i found out, or was able to use the cell phone which we all had and start makeing some contact with people, i'm sure you're well aware, the cell phone service in washington was overwhelmed and nobody could get through to anybody. i first got ahold of my wife and then my parents down in florida. because i knew they'd be concerned. my wife told me that my daughter, who was in school in boston, had heard on campus that a plane had flown into the white house and she was frantic, so i asked my wife to try to get back in touch with her and that i would try to get back in touch with her later in the day. of course, two of the planes had left from boston, the two that crashed into the world trade center. we continued to move the tables until they were all moved, but
we stayed adjacent to the south knoll just wondering what else was going to happen. i eventually asked one of the butlers with me, buddy carter, to see if he could go inside and get some cold cuts, some sandwiches together, for the people still there. the four or five people still with me, the four of five who i learned later, were down in the basement of the white house, which was part of the bomb shelter. communications started to become a little bit of a relief. we were able to start making some phone calls. they were intermittent and would get disrupted, but we were starting to make some phone calls.
i think it was around 1:00, i finally went back in, felt comfortable that we had accomplished our mission on the south portico. not only the picnic tables, we got to move the chuck wagon, serving tents, plywood that was going to be put on the stage for that night's performance. all that had to be moved and stacked away so when the helicopter came in, it could land without endangering anybody. but i went inside and started to make some calls on the telephone. i received a call from mrs. bush's staff. and her assistant, sarah garrison, asked about the where abouts of their personal maid and the dogs and the cat. and i said, well the last time i had seen them, they were with dale hainey, one of the grounds keeper who usually took care of the dog and cat and that i thought they had been in the basement of the white house. she said, well i'm going to come back in a secret service escort and get some clothes for mrs. bush.
we don't know what's going to happen from here and we'd like to pick up the dog and the cat. at that point, we made preparations to get the dog and the cat together and litter box for the cat and leash for the dog and sarah came and picked up some clothes for mrs. bush and she took the party off. maria galin and the animals and they went out of to a off to an undisclosed location. and it was getting later in the day, 3:00 and we were feeling a bit more comfortable. there had been no more attacks. certainly, by that time, we had heard about the plane that crashed in pennsylvania. shanksville. and that the air traffic control system had put all the planes down, including the former president's, who left the white
house that morning. various airports around the country and that imminent danger had subsided to some degree. and i knew that there were people in the situation room in the west wing that the police officers, both metropolitian police, secret service, park police, some of the white house staff that had stayed behind and hadn't evacuated, were all by this time, ravennous. had been there since early in the morning, so i called the chef and i asked him if he's be able to serve the hamburgers and hot dogs that we had for the children. i shouldn't say prepared, they were ready to go. he said, well, actually, it would be easier for him to do
the tenderloins, which had been prepped. i said, well, i don't think anybody will have a problem with getting tenderloin instead of hamburger and hot dogs and i expected it to be 100, 150 people when you included all the police and security that was around. i called over to the command center, which was operated at that time, the person i was talking to, with chuck easily. and i asked chuck if they'd been willing or able to accept a meal if we were able to prepare it. about that time, he had to get off on another call and would call me back in a few minutes. the chef called me in the interim and said not only could
he do the tenderloins, but we had green beans and hominy and that would be the easiest way for him to do it if he had some help. well, the chef maitre d', who had talked his way back to the security perimeter because he told everybody he needed to get his keys, his keys were in his jacket pocket, talked his way back in. so that left the chef, butler, daniel shanks, one of the plumbers and one other person. there were six people. we decided that the chef thought he could have food together by about 5:00. so, chuck easley called me back and said he'd be very grateful to all the people that were involved if they could come through. so i had them check to see if we had enough plates, forks and knives to handle all the people that i thought were going to be coming and i sat about just trying to put my thoughts on paper because i realized at that point, it was the most historic day for the country from a very negative aspect since pearl harbor, so i wanted to put down my thoughts on paper, what occurred during my day. and the service of the food was
going on and i found out later that those six men served 650 meals between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. quite a heroic day on the part of a very small kitchen. you've been there, you've seen the size of it. we got word at some point that the president was probably going to come back to the white house. in fact, i got a call from the military office and they asked if we would please go out and clear the grounds of the picnic tables. and i was very proud to be able to say, that's done, check that off your list. the president can return to the south grounds of the white house. also received word that the president would do a oval office address and i had a couple of people that maintenance people that were still there with me that i could send over and set up for the address and got the press people into the security
perimeter and arrange for the president's address that evening. president's brother, at one point, was able to get him back into the white house and he asked me if he should go to one of the local hotels overnight and i said, no, there's no reason why you can't stay right here. you stayed here last night. you can stay here again tonight. i'm sure your brother won't mind. and so, neil made plans, we sat there and talked and watched television for a half hour to 45 minutes, then he decided to go upstairs and make some personal phone calls. mrs. bush came back to the white house around 6:30 and the president, i'd have to look at my notes to get the exact time, 6:30 and the president landed on the ground a little bit later. it was getting to be dusk at that time. steve: i want to come back to that point, but i want you to go back to the point you were writing this diary, this timeline of what you were doing.
you were a husband, a father and worked for the first family. what were you thinking? gary walters: this was a historic occasion, negative certainly, but i needed to write down for history what occurred at the white house on that day. so much gets lost as you well know. if people don't write stuff down. and it wasn't my normal active -- activity to keep a journal or anything, but the historic nature of that day just overwhelmed me. i had gone through probably as many oemotions during the day as anybody could go through. thoughts of my family, obviously. later, the thoughts of the people in shanksville. miraculously fought their way through terrible conditions and downed that plane. as far as i'm concerned, they saved my life.
i was convinced, still am to this day, that the white house is the image of the united states. the capitol thinks it is all the time, but i've got a different thought process there. i just felt if somebody was going to try to do something, the white house would be a image they'd like to take down, so i feel a great deal of remorse for the people that lost their live in shanksville, but i also think they probably saved my life. if the timeline the way it worked out had been so, i would have been on the south grounds when the plane crashed in shanksville, if it would have crashed at the white house. i just felt that that day i needed to sit and compose my thoughts, both for history and to calm me down. at that point, i was pretty hyper. even though at that point, i was a good nine hours into the first crash that had occurred in new york.
and i used that as a means to kind of recalculate my day and start to think about the coming days. what was going to happen in the coming days. both to the white house, the united states government and all those things that start coming steve: recall a phrase or line that you wrote that stands out? gary walters: i really can't because i tried to keep it factual. of course, going through my mind was the fact that we were at war. somebody had attacked the united states. and there was a state of war that was going to be declared one way or the other and who were the people that did it and what were their motives? of course by that time in the afternoon, there was plenty of speculation who was responsible and what the action of the government was going to be. i wondered what it was going to
be. the president hadn't been in office that long. obviously, it was going to be something that changed for him. steve: you saw president bush depart the white house on september 10th. did a different george bush return the afternoon of september 11th? gary walters: yes, he made the transition to a wartime president. he was one of the most affable people i had to serve at the white house. constantly joking, had nicknames for everybody. knew a lot of the staff from when his father was the president, so he knew the people and some of their family
members. when he returned, he had a stiff jaw. he was very focused. tremendously focused. i think to that point, mrs. bush, laura bush, had been one of the primary focuses of his initiatives, which was childhood education and that's why she was down on capitol hill. and his demeanor changed. he was still the same person personally, but his demeanor obviously changed and he had a purposeful look in his eyes when he returned that evening and continued to. steve: as you reflect on for lack of a better phrase, the sights and sounds around the white house, what you heard or did hear into the afternoon through the early evening, what do you remember? gary walters: i remember early on, the chaos. people running, screaming. i never heard anybody yell, get out of the white house. that was kind of an anathema to me. and people running.
i didn't see until later that evening, the photographs that were being taken of everybody evacuating the white house on the north side. i saw the few people that were with me on the south grounds and the few people we haldane told -- the few people we told to get out. i had called immediately into the my staff and said, get everybody out and get them out now. so, that was the first sound, the noise, that was associated with that. then there was utter silence for a period of time. after everybody pretty much evacuated the white house, on the south grounds, the only
noises that came across was the clicking and the back ground sound of the radios of the police officers with us had. it was as you said, a crystal clear, beautiful day. there wasn't a bird singing. there wasn't a sound for quite a period of time. that was certainly after the jet planes had left the area. and then of course there was the activity level of us working to just get things done. we were doing it in relative silence, but there's a noise associated with moving things. and then there was a period of realization of what we were all involved in and how things were going to move from there and then it kind of fell back into a ree routine. getting ready for the address from the oval office, knowing that the helicopter was coming in. those were some of the sounds, but certainly that period of time, about a half an hour to 45 minutes of sheer silence just
was astounding. there were no horns because none of the traffic could move in washington. nobody could use their cell phones because the communications systems were overloaded. i mean, it was astonishing. to be there. and have that reaction at that time. steve: so, if you would pick up from the moment marine one lands on the south lawn, walk us through what you were doing, what you were hearing, what was going on nd the white house as the president was preparing to address the nation. gary walters: well, i had sent everybody home at that point, save for the three people that i had that were, had set up the oval office and obviously after the president made his remarks, would have to tear down the oval office and get it ready for the president's activities the next morning. everybody had gone home, so i was there talking with the chefs, asking him if he could be prepared for the president, first lady and neil, if he prepared them a meal because i'm sure they hadn't eaten and they would certainly like to have a nice meal for the evening.
president got off the helicopter and walked right straight to the oval office. met with his staff. gave the speech. came back over from the oval office. i was there and greeted him. he put his hand on my shoulder. we didn't really exchange many words and we went down to the basement because they took he and mrs. bush down to the basement and over to the bomb shelter. i went back to the office and little while later, they came back over and went upstairs to have the evening meal. and then the secret service kind of gathered them together. they were going to go down again to the shelter and i said to the president, mr.
president, you know that your brother's staying here tonight. he looked rather odd and looked over mrs. bush's shoulder, they want us to be in the bottom shelter and neil to be in the bedroom, i don't think so. if it is good enough for neil, it is good enough for us. they made the decision they would sleep in their own bed on the second floor, so they did not go back down to the shelter. they stayed there. sometime around 8:00 or 9:00, i got a call from west wing, from condoleezza rice's office and they said, how do they make preparations for mrs. rice to accept the president's invitation to stay at the white house for the night. i said, you've just done it. i'll take care of that. so, obviously, she was going to come over at some point. and take a room on the third
floor. around 9:30 or somewhere in that vicinity, secret service came running into the office and said, where's the president and first lady? i said, as far as i know, they've retired. upstairs. they said, well, we have word that another plane is coming towards washington. and we need to evacuate. i said fine, let's go. we got on the elevator, went unto the second floor. at that point, the agent had already retrieved the president and first lady. they were in their night clothes and had brought them towards the elevator. i stepped back out of the elevator and yelled for neil to hurry up. he was coming down the hall. he had heard all the commotion. i gathered him with me on the elevator with the president, mrs. bush and secret service agents and we traveled floors down to the basement.
that basement corridor was full of men with guns and masks and all kinds of things that i had never seen. downstairs. in the basement. and the pace that they hurried the president and the first lady and neal and myself through was astonishing. it was quite a good bit of rapidity. as we passed by the engineer's office as we passed through, two of my assistants who had been over setting up the oval office and had since returned in the basement because they stayed there overnight because they had duties to tend to at night, they were standing there with wide eyed and didn't know what to do, so i just reached out and grabbed both of them by the shoulder and said you're coming with me. they said we can't go. they were still going on the security priorities. there were certain places they went and certain places they didn't go.
i said you're coming with me, and i gathered them up and we just followed along in the entourage and we ended up in the bomb shelter and the president went into the briefing room, and i stopped myself and the other two men in the hallway because there was obviously not enough room for everybody to be in there. we didn't know what was going on. we were in the safest place we could be which was next to the president. i didn't know how long we were going to be there. about 15 minutes later. i guess this happened around 11:00, now that i think about it. about 15 minutes later the secret service said it was a false alarm, something on the radar. it may have been a flock of birds or whatever at that point and so we all retraced our steps and went back to our previous positions. steve: but let me ask you, during that moment, what was that room like? what do you remember about what people were saying or not saying or what you felt?
gary walters: once again, i was outside of the briefing room with the president. the shelter, i can't be too specific here. the shelter has a space for the president and first lady if they need to stay overnight. the president has extra clothes and the first lady has extra clothes and the briefing room and monitors and other things where he can receive discussions and then there's the hallway that connects this all together and i was in the hallway with the two gentlemen that i spoke of earlier, and a myriad of secret service agents and the counterattack team and so there were a lot of people standing around with gas masks and various armaments and it was pretty crowded, but i didn't feel frightened at that point. i felt that the president of the united states -- i couldn't be in a more safe position right now than with the president.
so it was one of those things that you would wait it out and see what happened. luckily, it only lasted about 15 minutes. steve: what was his demeanor? gary walters: um, it was hard for me to say because by the time i saw him he had mrs. bush's arm because obviously, she didn't have her contacts in and was having difficulty seeing, so he was attending to her and they were in front of us going down this corridor, so i really couldn't -- but it was matter of fact. there was no panic or rush. the secret service were trying to get them to move as rapidly as secret service agents normally move so that's never easy for anybody to do the way those guys move at times. so it was hard for me to give you an idea of what it was like going in. coming out, the president said it's been quite a day, gary. yes, sir.
and the two gentlemen were maintenance staff and blue shirt and dark pants and he said to nobody in particular, is that the little guy that over in the oval office. he seems to be everywhere, and i said, mr. president, he's one of the maintenance men that's always here to take care of things. good man. he went back upstairs and retired for the night as far as i know, and i went back to the office and awaited dr. rice. she came over a little after midnight and i showed her to the third floor which i prepared for her, and i went down to the office. never knowing what was going to occur, and i was there for about another hour and it was about 1:30, we have a small room down in the basement that we call the
usher's lounge if somebody needs to stay overnight they can go down to the room and use it. it's a very small room. so i went down at 2:00 and fell asleep and woke up the next morning at my regular time at 5:00 and proceeded to plan for the next day. steve: as you placed your head on that pillow, though, did you have time to think about the day and reflect or were you simply exhausted? gary walters: at that point i was exhausted. i had spent my time doing my notes and thought about everything that went on during the course of the day that i had written down as vivid as it was in my memory at that time. i didn't want it to fade. i wanted to keep it as vivid on paper. memories aren't always as when you write stuff down. so i spent a considerable number of hours both listening and watching television in the
usher's office and writing down my memories of what had gone on that day. i picked up, obviously, a lot of the times and the planes crashed into the world trade centers and the times from the news media and everything else filled in. so i had thought pretty hard about the day and what had occurred, and i felt good about what we'd accomplished. once again, in my mind it was allowing the president to return to the white house with the least disruption to him, and that was mission accomplished. steve: you wake up the morning of september 12th. it was a wednesday morning. what were you thinking? gary walters: what's this day going to bring? is it over? is there more to come? i'm sure some of those things the president of the united states was thinking about. what are we going to do? obviously, some of the things that i had to do was to make preparations to get the picnic
tables away from the white house and talk to the people -- the ranch people because i'm sure they were completely shaken. we had to make arrangements for them in their hotel and for them to get back down to texas. what we were going to do with all of the rental equipment that we had. getting it back and seeing how the staff was, trying to talk to people in the intervening weeks we actually had some counselors that came in and talked to people both as a group to start off with and the doctor's office at the white house was absolutely marvelous and the chief physician brought our whole staff, the residence staff together and had a brief conversation with people about what they had accomplished. what might be the problem in the future and the coming weeks. i had a chaplain that made
available to anybody that talked to the chaplain. he and i had had a conversation before the meeting that maybe some people decided they didn't want to work at white house anymore, and there were a number of administration staff who did make that decision. it was just too close, and the fear was paramount and they left their position. steve: did you ever feel that? gary walters: no. i've always felt the white house was a safe environment. the president lives there and all of the precautions that could be taken are taken. so i've never felt that way. i felt it was one of the safest places in the world to be. steve: did you ever connect with your daughter? gary walters: i did. thank you for asking. she was frantic by the time i got a hold of her. her mother couldn't get in touch with her on the phone, and i finally did get in touch with her, and the reports that were coming out after the initial one
that was all over campus was that a plane, in fact, had crashed into the white house. somebody there had confused the pentagon with the white house. it's not unusual for young people of that age. they're not up on some of the washington buildings as others, but we did make the connection and we cried on the phone for a minute or two. it turned out one of the hotels that the terrorists had stayed in prior to leaving boston was also the one that we stayed in when we were up there visiting my daughter. there was quite a connection there. and then she was planning on coming home that following weekend so we had quite a reunion that weekend. steve: it was very emotional. gary walters: she was just apoplectic about the fact that a plane had crashed into the white house and that not only i, but a lot of the people she knew may have died and that was hard for
her to take at that point because she'd been away from home and school. it was her first year away. we had made a connection actually with the bush daughters because they graduated at the same time as my daughter and they were away as school, and i thought about what the president had gone through with mrs. bush with trying to let him connect with his daughters and mrs. bush, and that she was of asafe. there was a parallel there. steve: was the congressional picnic ever rescheduled? gary walters: it was. it was quite a bit later and it was not as large. the congressional picnic has a small window into which it can fit and it's usually in the summer recess and usually that's september, october, early october timeframe and when you miss it you to do other things. the president and mrs. bush decided to do some smaller
things, and we didn't actually have a large congressional picnic that year. steve: when you left the white house and you left when? gary walters: 2007. steve: reflect on your 27 years at the white house and that moment of september 11th and september 12th. gary walters: well, obviously that was the most horrific event that occurred because of the loss of life life. obviously there was a tremendous scare when president reagan was shot. those were probably the two most difficult days. learning, as it turned out, on the day president reagan was shot i wasn't at the white house. i was at home and it was my day off and learning that the president of the united states had been shot and may be near death that was a difficult day. but the -- those days are over with and by the history and the
events that go on at the white house. the positive event that occurred was when president reagan had gorbachev at the white house, and i literally felt the breaking down of the cold war and the iron curtain. i mean, that was quite an experience. i had a tremendous opportunity over the years to oversee history. chronicling that history as a historian and there was a great deal of pleasure to be able to be a part of that. steve: how will you spend the tenth anniversary of 9/11? gary walters: i don't know. i will certainly watch, as i have. i've been captivated by a lot of the pieces that have been done and the film that's come out in the intervening years, it's almost like i'm mesmerized by watching some of that.
it's hard to take my eyes off of it. it is so intrusive into what has become america in the last ten years, terrorism. so i -- i plan on making a trip to shanksville. probably not on 9/11, either right before or right after. i have a -- a great place in my heart for those people that miraculously, the heroes that took that plane down and saved god knows how many lives. steve: and finally, in a quiet moment with your daughter and your wife, what do you tell them about the part you played on 9/11? i was glad that we were able to accomplish what we needed to accomplish for the presidency. it was a small staff.
the resident staff is a tight-knit group of people and those who were chased out of the white house and were forced to evacuate by the secret service spent the day trying to get back in because they knew they could help in some way, and i think that that is a sense of responsibility to the presidency which is inherent in all those people who are in executive residence. steve: for you, personally, you served how many presidents over how many years? gary walters: as i said, started there in 1970 with the nixon administration and served seven presidents all of the way through george w. bush. steve: gary walters, former chief usher. thank you for your time. gary walters: thank you, steve.
>> the smithsonian national museum of african american history and culture opens its doors for the first time on saturday, september 20 four. american history tv will be live from the national mall, the night -- the sights and sounds leading up to the ceremony, and will be live with the dedication, including remarks by president obama and lonnie bunch. this is american history tv only on c-span three. tv'sweek american history american auto for -- american artifacts visits historic places. flight 93sit the national memorial and take a tour of the visitor center, which details the events of the september 11 of 2001.
the likely target, the u.s. capitol building. >> i am adam schaffer, and i am a park ranger at flight 93 national memorial. inside be taking a look the flight 93 visitor center, which was dedicated in september 2015. we are currently standing out on the flight path it overlooked. we are standing in the shadow of the flight path that flight 93 would have been on just before impact. this orientation for visitors is central to the design of the visitor center itself. the wall of the visitor center shields the view of the landscape around us and the enormity of the landscape and only frame the flight path as you approach the visitor center entrance. off there coming parking lot you have to walk the flight path that this plane was on just before it crashed, and
the tall walls help frame the last piece of sky flight 93 passes through before impact. andmemorial plaza itself wall bears the names of the passengers and crew, in white marble. we are looking down over the top of that wall from the flight path. the continuation of the flight path just before the impact site, and the crash site that we protect here. let's take a walk inside and we will take a look at the exhibit space that opened in september 2015. flight 93 is going to impact at 500 93 miles per hour inverted, upside down. this cases meant to give you the sense of fragmentation that takes place when flight 93 crashes. get a little closer we can
take a look at some of the pieces that were recovered, these are average sized pieces found around the site at the point of impact and southward. fragmented andso small, but the majority of the air path -- majority of the aircraft has been absorbed into the ground. it is not until later when they begin excavating the crater and looking for evidence that they are going to start to uncover more and more of flight 93. that is for presented best visually on the camera by this mockup. this represents the edge of where mining had ceased. this is the edge of a very large surface mine that had been active. justt 93 is going to crash before the edge of the tree line, so it is crashing in an where the soil would have been removed for a period of
time. and then in a hard field where the soil hadn't been removed, right around that morning corporal -- with the aviation division is going to be airborne as they arrive here. they are going to capture aerial footage of the site. initially they don't know where they are -- don't know what they are looking at. they are going to land their helicopter, they are going to be briefed, and then they are going to return that afternoon. this footage really can clearly where the whole 757 impact to the ground. this is the vertical tail stabilizer you see up above, and the fuselage where it would have
impacted. it was inverted. the scorching of the trees represented by the black walls in the visitor center. embeddedso much debris it was onrees because the flight path, that when the decision was made to cut down the burned trees, they send the trees through a wood chipper and a wood chip pile remains here on the site. it never left. it was part of the effort to ensure that there was proper and taken for the remains no remains were left at the site unless they were gone for identification or returned to family members. >> watch the entire program on the flight 93 national memorial, sunday at 6 p.m. and p.m. eastern time here on american history tv.
each week american history tv's america not a fax -- american artifacts visits museums and historic places. "reel america," faces from the west from in 1956. on september 20, lady bird johnson and stewart udall set off on a four-day conservation tour of california,, arizona, and new mexico. the u.s. naval photographic center recorded the trip. the first lady dedicated several parks, traveled with governor of california, and spoke about preserving natural areas for future generations. this is about 20 minutes courtesy of the lbj presidential library. ♪